June 2, 2006

Syrian forces kill four suspected militants

By Rasha Elass

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Four gunmen and a guard were killed
when Syrian security forces foiled an attack on Friday near the
premises of the state-run television in Damascus, the official
SANA news agency reported.

Two militants and two members of the anti-terrorism
security forces were wounded during the shootout, SANA said.
Authorities arrested four other militants.

The gunmen were members of an Islamist militant group and
had obtained their weapons from a neighboring country "to carry
out acts of sabotage against a number of vital targets," SANA
quoted an unidentified Interior Ministry official as saying.

Syrian Television showed footage of the four gunmen's
bodies and said they were armed with U.S.-made M-16 assault

Security forces also seized home-made explosives and other
weapons, along with tapes of religious sermons, the Interior
Ministry official said. The statement did not name the group or
give further details on the weapons' source.

Syria's relations with neighboring Jordan have deteriorated
since last month when the kingdom, a close U.S. ally, said it
had arrested members of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas on
charges of plotting attacks in the country. Jordan said the
suspects had been trained in Syria.

Damascus is also under U.S. pressure to seal its eastern
border to stop militants from crossing into Iraq to fight U.S.
forces there. Syria says it is doing its best but calls on
Washington and Baghdad to do more too.

Fayez al-Sayegh, head of Syrian radio and television, told
Reuters a police patrol had spotted the gunmen and engaged them
in the heavily guarded Ummayad Square area in central Damascus.

"This is a major area in Damascus, full of security
installations, hotels and other state buildings," he said. "The
security force dealt effectively with the group as shown from
the number of casualties among its members."


The Interior Ministry official said the gunmen were spotted
while trying to sneak to a deserted building in the area but
gave no reason.

Traffic was normal near the television compound few hours
after the shootout, a Reuters witness said. There was no sign
of increased security.

Syrian forces clashed with Islamists militants several
times last year, usually in raids to arrest them.

Authorities said in December they had found a bomb factory
in the northern city of Aleppo belonging to a militant group
that, they said, was monitoring government officials and state

Political analyst Thabet Salem said the group responsible
for Friday's shootout was likely to be "similar to the ones
authorities have been facing lately."

Damascus says the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of neighboring
Iraq gave rise to militants in the region.

In the early 1980s, Syria crushed a fundamentalist revolt
led by the Muslim Brotherhood, leading to the killing and
imprisonment of thousands.

(Additional reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Marwan